Lakeland, Fla. — If you lock in on Victor Reyes this spring, you might notice he’s slightly altered his batting stance. He is holding his hands higher, standing a little straighter in the batters’ box.
In his much-improved English, the Tigers’ 27-year-old outfielder explained that it was a mechanism to help him slow his hands down. He started doing it last season and carried it into winter ball in Venezuela. Where, by the way, he raked — 29 total bases, four home runs in 12 games, slugging .659 with a 1.055 OPS.
“I am comfortable with it now,” he said.
There’s more to the stance alteration, though. There always is. The raised hands and straighter stance are a mechanism that will hopefully generate more ball flight, which would theoretically lead to more damage.
“It probably feels like he’s holding his bat above his head, when in actuality, he’s moved it about an inch,” manager AJ Hinch said. “This is a good topic about what a hitter feels and what the actual result is. Victor probably feels it’s a way to free up his hands.
“In reality, it’s to get him to not chop down on the ball and get the ball off the ground.”
Reyes, a switch-hitter, generally hits the ball hard. The average exit velocity on balls put in play last year was 89.5 mph — legit. But too many of his hard-hit balls are ground balls. Over his career, 47.4% of the balls he’s put in play were ground balls.
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Not what you want, especially when you are strong and hit the ball as hard as Reyes does. His launch angle last season dropped from 10.7 degrees to 6.6 degrees.
“His biggest issue as a hitter has been continually pounding the ball into the ground,” Hinch said. “We want him to be more of a line drive hitter. When he’s at his best, he’s hitting the ball all over the field on a line. But there is a fine line between the ground ball and the line drive.
“His hand movement is going to help create a little better chance to get the ball in the air.”
Hinch explained that when Reyes’ hands get too low, his swing gets stuck. And when he gets in that stuck position, all he can do is throw the barrel of the bat down at the ball.
“That’s the biggest issue — he gets tied up inside and he just jabs at the ball and the ball ends up on the ground. Good for contract rate, but not for doing damage.”
The other part of the equation that Reyes has been focused on is his contact point. He’s always tried to let the ball travel deeper in the strike zone. That’s a good approach for a contact hitter. But to drive the ball and get it up in the air, the contact point needs to be more out front.
“Him being late in the hitting zone is also going to drive the ball dead on the ground, too,” Hinch said. “He did a good job in winter ball. He’s coming in with a lot of confidence. The look of it right now is, he’s a step ahead of where he was last year.”
Reyes — who can play all three outfield positions — seems, with more than two weeks left in camp, to be the frontrunner for the fourth outfield spot after Akil Baddoo, Riley Greene and Robbie Grossman. And truth be told, he probably staked his claim to that in the second half of last season, when he slashed .325/.349/.516 (six doubles, three triples and four homers) with an .864 OPS after July 19.
“A lot of this stuff started last year and went into winter ball,” Hinch said. “Coolie and Hess (hitting coaches Scott Coolbaugh and Mike Hessman) were adamant with him on how to untap his power and his strength. And we saw that quite a bit in is second half.”
You might have thought the worst moment of right-hander Rony Garcia’s young career was his feeble, three half-hearted bunt attempts and strikeout against Brewers Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes in Milwaukee last May 31.
(Or maybe the worst moment was Hinch playing the replay during a recent team meeting, illustrating why pitchers are no longer allowed to bat.)
But, no, not it. Garcia threw three scoreless innings that day in Milwaukee. Ten days later, though, as he was throwing in the outfield before a game at Comerica Park, he collapsed to the ground. It looked like he was hit by a sniper.
“It was one of the worst days of my life,” said Garcia, through Tigers’ bilingual interpreter Carlos Guillen. “Probably the worst day of my life. I was going to work, like I do every day, giving it all that I’ve got. And I was just getting ready to throw and I fell over.
“I saw myself on the ground and I saw my foot twisted. I got really worried. One of the worst things that ever happened to me.”
You never know when your meniscus is going to tear. It took him four and a half months after surgery to resume his throwing program. So you can imagine how good he felt ahead of getting back on the mound Monday.
Garcia threw a crisp, eight-pitch scoreless inning in the Tigers’ Grapefruit League game against the Blue Jays at Joker Marchant Stadium. He got three swings and misses with his sweeping curveball, including one strikeout.
Most likely, Garcia, who came to the Tigers as a Rule 5 pick in 2020, will start the season in the rotation at Triple-A Toledo. If he gets summoned to Detroit, like he did last year, it would be as a bullpen piece.
“It’s up to the team to make a decision,” Garcia said. “But I’m going to do my best to be part of the team and make the roster. I’ve always been a starter, seven years in professional baseball. If I could get that chance, I’d like to do that.”
Around the horn
…Hinch said all managers were asked if they thought the rosters needed to be expanded at least for the first month of the regular season because of the shortened spring training. Hinch said every manager wants to add at least one pitcher and, if he had his way, two players with the option of one being a position player. “Common sense would lead you to protect your pitching a little bit with the shortened spring,” he said. There has been no word from the league.
…Tigers shortstop Javier Baez will make his Lakeland Grapefruit League debut on Wednesday against the Pirates. He played in back-to-back road games at Bradenton and Tampa.